Category Archives: Leadership Development

It’s Your Camino

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Safely returned from a five-day “taste” of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, there are two phrases that have stuck in my mind.

The first is, “It’s your Camino.” Here are some of the distinguishing features of our Camino trip.

  • We walked parts of the Portuguese Camino, the oldest route, but not the one most people think of.
  • We went with a tour group which meant comfortable hotels and good, reliable meals, not hostels with bunk beds.
  • We had “options” — no need to press onward to reach the next destination because there was always the van to pick you up and take you to that night’s lodgings if the hiking was too much.
  • We had a gaggle of women (and I mean that quite complimentary!) who walked and chatted and shopped and . . . bonded over small and big things.
  • We talked about the obvious and the metaphysical.

In and amongst all of this, “It’s your Camino” meant that it was always your choice how you walked it. Long, short, fast, slow, quiet, talking, taking mental pictures, taking physical pictures, in boots, in tennis shoes, with rain gear, without rain gear.

I thought a lot about how my “how” has changed over the years. I went backpacking about 25 years ago, and spent one of the 9 days at the front, right behind the leader. In looking back, I’m not sure what I thought I was going to achieve by doing that, but it was a consistent pattern in my life. In the end, we all arrived at the same destination, but “sooner” was the imperative for me.

On the Camino, one day I started at the front and kept a pace that had my thighs quaking by the time the day was done. It was also the only day that I hiked the longest possible distance and spent it mostly in conversation. On the rest of the days, I found my own pace, often hanging back with my Mom. I had a better opportunity to take in and embrace everything that was around us. And I felt more like a pilgrim on a journey–one of a pair like the disciples that Jesus sent forth, two by two.

It’s still my Camino, my journey, even as I sit at my desk, working through email, solving problems, moving programs forward. So, the big question is, how do I want to walk the journey of my personal, spiritual, and work life? What are the choices that I want to make?

What is your “Camino” like?

 

 

The Deep End

floatingTwice in my life I have been thrown into the professional “deep end” and been trusted to figure out how to swim.

The first was as a young teacher with lots of theology, but no education training. As the leader in my own classroom, I used the general skills that I had to help me create lesson plans, write tests, and present whatever material happened to be on the syllabus.

The second was as a slightly older, slightly more experienced adult who accepted the challenge of coordinating the largest Catholic youth conference in the country along with a couple of other meetings and conferences. Again, the skills that kept me afloat were the ones that I had honed over many years.

In neither case, I had been prepared with the the specific skills set that each job required. No education training. No conference management.

So there were times when I barely kept my head above water.

In both instances, there was someone there with more experience, more knowledge, more ideas, and I listened. I hung out in doorways. I drank endless cups of bad coffee early in the morning. I memorized the cadence of a sentence and the pattern of a conversation. I practiced and imitated the veterans, hoping to find a behavior or a word or a grin that fit and worked for me.

The apostles must have been thrown into the deep end many times–from the time they met Jesus to his death and Resurrection, and their eventual journeys in proclaiming the Gospel. With only their memories to serve them, they must asked themselves, “What did Jesus do? What would he say?”

Think about it. When have you been thrown into the deep end (or found yourself there by choice!)? What preexisting skills helped you keep your head above water? Who and what else did you need to comfortably stay afloat?

The Secret to Achieving the Awesome

By guest blogger, Terry Modica, Good News Ministries, gnm.org

BikeWhat’s the gold you’re pursuing? What treasure? What awesome goal? What new spiritual height? What overcoming of wounds or sin?

My husband and I recently began riding our bikes every morning. The gold we seek is weight loss and stronger knees and backs. For weeks we rode merrily around our neighborhood with only minor results.

Then I watched the Olympics. I listened to the interviews of winners. And one important message came through: True athletes don’t practice their skill so much that gradually their body improves enough to run farther or jump higher or swim faster than the competition. They don’t wait for that. I had been waiting on my legs muscles to improve enough to bike farther and faster. That’s a mistake. I was slowing down whenever my muscles cried out, “That’s enough pushing for now! You’ve reached the pain threshold.”

True progress is made only by reaching the pain threshold and pushing through it.

Keep going when it hurts; push harder — this is when you begin to make a difference.

Pain while exerting muscles comes from a buildup of lactic acid. If we choose not to focus on the pain but on the goal instead, and if we remain motivated by our passionate desire to reach that goal, lactic acid won’t stop us. Lactic acid is just a reminder that we’re succeeding: We’re getting closer to the gold. Hooray!

What’s the lactic acid that’s been keeping you from being all that you’re called by God to be? What do you wish you could accomplish but you’ve reached the threshold of pain and this has kept you from moving forward?

I’ve changed how I ride my bike for exercise. It’s no longer a question of, “How much longer can I ride today because I’ve built up my muscle strength?” Now it’s, “Go faster! Push harder! No pain, no gain.” My bike ride takes less time, but now I return home panting and aching and feeling awesome about the new, improved results.

The pain isn’t as noticeable when we keep our eyes on the goal. If I focus on the top of the hill, I get up the hill faster, because the lactic acid in my legs is not the center of my attention.

What’s the gold beyond your own pain threshold? Trust Jesus, work those faith muscles till they hurt, and keep your focus on the gold that God wants to give to you. This will make you a winner every time!

Complimentary or Complementary?

ColorI think of myself as “color-challenged.” I don’t often know what color to pick when it comes to shoes or paint or much of anything else, so I resort to the basics of the color wheel.

Limiting myself to the 6 options of the primary and secondary colors, the internal conversation goes something like this. “If the room is blue, then what are the adjacent and opposite colors?” Answers? Green and purple, and orange.

When it comes to leadership culture, I can be equally challenged, but find that I take a similar tack in addressing the question, “What kind of leader do I need to be in this particular situation and for this particular group?”

The summer issue of Harvard Business Review includes a “Defend Your Research” article on how leaders should complement their culture, not embody it. Sort of counter-intuitive, but I’ve seen it in action in my own experience. I find the answer is similar to my color challenge — go with the opposite or complementary skill set.

Does the program or office need someone who is task-oriented to right or steady or focus the ship? Then you are called to bring your organizational and administrative skills to the vision of the ministry so that it can be its most effective.

Does the ministry lack vision or direction, but has lots of great volunteers and doers who are generous and willingly give of their time and talent? Then you need to provide and communicate that vision at every turn, stay out of the proverbial weeds, and help them see how they plug into it and can make it concrete and human.

Start with recognizing your own leadership strengths and which specific skills they naturally support (are “adjacent to”). Then look at which skills are opposite yours — or complement them. How do you bring a balance of these complementary gifts so that your ministry can be the most successful and effective?

 

Take a Step Off the Soapbox (Rule #7)

speakerMany ministry professionals find themselves advocating for the needs and concerns of the people with and among whom they serve. Advocacy is incredibly important, especially when it is for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard.

But advocacy without inquiry can become a blaring horn that eventually fades into background white noise.

And when two individuals advocate from opposing positions, they can almost cancel each other out.

In my young adult years, I had the blessing of teaching at an all-girls’ high school. A new teacher–new to the school, new to teaching–I had ideas, great (!) ideas, on how to improve the faith life of the school. And, as you might expect, no one took me seriously.

“You’re new.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” “This is the way we have always done it.”

Thankfully, my department chair had the soul of a wise man, and listened very carefully to everything, taking in and storing what might have value sometime in the future.

We spent two years of formal and informal meetings talking through my biggest idea–making all-school Masses optional–possible. And all he did was ask me questions. Lots of them.

Question after question. Why optional? How did we expect the students to respond? What issues would the teachers raise? What strategies did we want to propose to address those strategies? What was our mission-based reasoning? Lots of questions.

About midway through my third year, we met with the administration, and made our proposal. This wasn’t the first time that they had heard this proposal from us, and their faces showed it. So we posed the questions that we had identified, and offered the answers that we had discussed. We invited more questions from them, and responded as best we could.

As it turned out, “as best we could” was good enough.

By combining advocacy with inquiry, we had turned the somewhat inevitable “clash” that many of us experience when pushing a particular program or position into a dialogue by building the bridge from advocacy to inquiry. And we demonstrated right from the start that we had questions, too.

In the end, they agreed with our proposal. (And it was very successful, by the way! More than we had anticipated.)

We had moved advocacy away from being a clanging bell that the administration wanted to silence to a starting point for deeper, greater, and shared advocacy. In the end, campus ministry and the administration were partners promoting a Eucharist-based and -rich faith life in the school. A win-win for everyone.

Turn On the Light

lightThe first two words I heard were “darkness” and “death.”

The various media commentators used these words, reflecting on Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday. “Darkness” and “death.”

Our public and political discourse seems to have given voice to a deep-seated anger and frustration that has expressed itself in unkind, even violent (physical and verbal) behaviors.

We have seen “easy” words (“We’re angry”) become “easy” actions (shootings, brawls).

And in direct contrast to that, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” and “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Light and life. Words we cherish and enshrine in a Constitution and Catechism. Actions that we honor with National Medals and canonizations.

Regardless of how dark and angry our environment, businesses, parishes, or Church may become, we are called to be light — always — in the world. To stand up for what is good and right, to model Christ’s response to the darkness and death that he encountered in his world. To offer faith instead of faithlessness, healing instead of pain, a path forward instead of a pit downward.

One of the stories and pictures that has stayed in my mind lately has been that of the protesters who were joined by police — joined, not opposed by.

Faith instead of faithlessness. Healing instead of pain. Forward instead of downward.

Light instead of dark.

The Rules: Important Words

fenceOne of the most stressful parts of a new job for me has always been learning the “rules” of how the office works, how people interact, what is expected of me, and what I should expect of others.

One boss I had did our entire staff the great favor of inviting a consultant in, and teaching us a set of rules to work by. They weren’t magic words, but when adhered to, they eliminated some potential landmines, reduced tensions, and made it possible to work through conflicts.

This post is one of a series of posts featuring each rule.

Rule #1: Agree on what important words mean.

A word like “rules.” Is a rule only in writing or can they be “unwritten”? I once worked in an office where the unwritten rule was to never question when the supervisor arrived at work even though it was often hours after everyone else.

An important tool in discovering what the important words are is to listen carefully to how colleagues phrase questions and even what they complain about.

A friend and colleague taught me a lot about the first. I had pulled together the text for a resource, and had gotten to the point where I was no longer a good judge of how good or bad it was or what was highlighted well and what was missing. So, I asked, “Can you give me some feedback on this now?” as I extended a printed copy to her.

Her response was fabulous! “Do you want whatever I can tell you now or do you want my best response?” She taught me about how important it is to be specific, especially in my questions.

Same office, different colleague on complaints. “It isn’t perfect.” Surely something we have all heard ourselves say as some point in time. At that point in time, striving for perfection was slowly killing us, partly because we all had slightly different definitions of. Me? I’m good with anywhere between 95-98% perfect. Not so my colleagues.

After a brief discussion, we arrived at a new and common definition of “perfection.” We decided that we were striving for excellence, not perfection, and recognized what some of the boundaries are around achieving excellence.

So, what key words are essential in the culture of your office? What do you think they mean? What else could they mean?

 

Following His Lead

DRThe announcement of the new Archbishop of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macorís, has surprised some, but also appears to continue the pattern that Pope Francis has established elsewhere around the world.

He appointed someone with a strong pastoral background like himself, someone of the people who has walked with the people he shepherds.

Whereas the cardinal (his predecessor) has the classically European features of the upper classes, the new archbishop looks, and sounds, like most mixed-race Dominicans. . . Ozoria Ocosta told journalists this morning that he was a “passionate follower of the Second Vatican Council, above all of the ecclesiology of communion that underpins our national pastoral program.” . . He said his goals as archbishop would be to “give continuity to the Church’s mission,” get to know the archdiocese, and to perform the three tasks of a bishop of shepherding, educating and sanctifying. (Crux, July 4, 2016)

With summer comes some time to look at the type of leaders we want to raise up and nurture in our pastoral programs. As you look back on the last year or so, how would someone describe the leaders you have selected and developed? Is there a pattern? What would you want that pattern to be?

As you look ahead, what kind of leaders do you want to have when next year ends? What one thing can you do to make that happen.

Having reached the pinnacle of summer this weekend, the downhill side is ahead — and the time is now to begin to set our leadership planning in motion. Posts in the next few weeks will include ways to help you make progress on developing strong pastoral leaders.